Marco Camandona, François Cazzanelli, Francesco Ratti, Andreas Steindl and me left on September 2nd from home. On the 3rd we arrived in Kathmandu, for me, François and Marco now a second home, for Andy and Francesco was the first time. As usual we found ourselves catapulted into the post-monsoon chaos of an increasingly crowded and messy city! We immediately paid a visit to Sanonani's children, then, the following day we prepared the material for our new adventure.
On September 5th we took the jeep to Gorakshep, where three days of trekking awaited us, which we unfortunately passed under water. Finally, on September 9th we arrived in Samagoan, where during a brief clearing we saw the Pangpoche.
The Pangpoche is a 6620 m mountain located in front of the Manaslu, directly above the village of Samagoan. Thus by the naked eye we were able to identify three possible routes of ascent: with the shoulders to Manaslu we could see from the left a very long but very beautiful ridge with a south-west exposure. There was a spur almost direct to the top and another ridge on the right (South) which would have led us to the second mountain summit 6400 m, and to reach the summit itself would have made the climb too long.
The day after we split into two groups: Francesco, Marco and me went to patrol a possible access in a valley just behind Sama; while Andreas and François went up towards Samdo, a village further upstream than where we were and went into another valley. For us it was a bust, we arrived at a hill at 4800 m, unfortunately from then on there was no possibility of going up. In the afternoon François and Andy gave us good news: from where they had climbed it was easy to reach the south-west ridge.
This mountain as well as being inviolate and very beautiful was also an important step for our acclimatization, so on September 12th we climbed all together to the attack of the ridge at 5100 m to make a deposit of both mountaineering and bivouac material, so as to be able to take advantage of the first window of good weather to reach the top. Unfortunately the weather was not clement with us: according to forecasts, at least for a week, it would have been bad. After a brief reflection we decided to move to Manaslu, where, despite the bad weather, the Sherpas continued to equip the normal route. Even they were already over Camp 2 at 6200 m.
And so it was that on September 14th we climbed to the Manaslu base camp and on the 15th we were already at Camp 2 at 6200 m for our first night of acclimatization. After 12 days we reached the summit at 8163 m and on the 29th we were already back at Samagoan. Despite of the beauty of Manaslu and the conquered summit we had never stopped dreaming of Pangpoche. Although we have seen it on a few occasions due to bad weather, every time we tried to study it with binoculars and we discussed what could be the best strategy to climb it.
Finally at Sama we rested in a real bed, and there we made plans for the next few days.
In these gloomy days of rest, we understood from the villagers that it has been several decades since such a long-lasting monsoon manifested itself; in fact we were at the end of September and it had not yet done a full day of sun, moreover the snow was lowering more and more with the passing of days.
A hope came from home on October 1st, when our meteorologists warned us of a possible window of good weather from October 3rd to 5th. For us it would have been the first climb of autumn with the sun, we couldn't wait to climb!
On October 3rd we left for the Pangpoche! The backpacks were not light because despite the 5100 m deposit we still had to bring the bivouac and food because we were not sure that what we had brought 15 days before was still good.
At around 5 pm we reached an altitude of 5500 m, where, on a saddle of flat snow, we decided to place the tents for the first night. We paved the crest with ice axes and built a sort of retaining wall, with snow and stones to enlarge the ridge a little. We built two stops with nails and friends on both sides of the tent and we fastened a rope to sleep a little quieter.
The first night passed well, as far as possible, and in the morning we woke up with a splendid weather! Finally, after so many days we managed to admire the mountains around us. A priceless show!
After a frugal breakfast we attacked the ridge! We always had very heavy backpacks, but we received a little help from the snow that for a long time was transformed, and therefore supported us and allowed us to go a little faster.
We passed a vertical and technical stretch, and reached a long and flat part of the ridge, which we thought was easier, but actually it was very aerial, with some very exposed stretches. After this long stretch we started to climb again for vertical sections, where Francesco from cape-cordata overcame the vertical and technical traits with an uncommon speed and naturalness. We had a great time despite the fatigue, thanks to the fantastic place, the breathtaking view and the sun that accompanied us all day.
We expected to get to the end of the difficulties from one moment to the other, instead at 5800, François and Marco, just before us yelled at us that we were in the "sh__t".
When we reached them we realized that another day would not be enough to reach the top. The weather would have worsened in the following days. In addition, the difficulties increased: the ridge became very sharp and even more deteriorated, and alternatively we had to cross very steep slopes, exposed to rock and snow shocks and then reach easier canals. According to the snow conditions that even at that altitude it was very hot, we decided to get off, also because we would have had only one day of good weather, which we had to use to find a fast way down. We therefore gave up a beautiful dream, that of Pangpoche, which we later learned in the following days that it has already been climbed by a Georgian expedition by the simpler routes.
Giving up is always the hardest thing for a mountaineer, but sometimes necessary if the conditions do not allow it or the weather is uncertain. On the other hand the mountains do not run away and opportunities to go back if you really want to just create them. With this thought in mind and a hint of regret we mounted the tents at an acceptable point on the ridge. Always tied to a rope passing through the tent, we consumed our dinner, made up of two servings of canned food... A dinner not really delicious for my thirty-first birthday, but I don't know when it will happen again for me to celebrate in such a magical place in the company of so special friends!
On the morning of October 5th we began to descend. After 150 m downhill we saw a series of spurs and canals that led us up slopes that we should be able to descend on foot, at most with an easy desescalade. We managed to do it easily: by 8 nails rappels and walking we reached a ledge leading to the moraine that we had climbed to go to the crest attack two days before. At 14:00 we were in Samagoan. In less than a week we would have been at home.
Only with such a close-knit team would I be able to reach the summit of Manaslu and experience a wonderful adventure on the Pangpoche. Thanks to my travel fellows François, Marco, Francesco and Andreas. All this, if it is shared with the right people, becomes a life experience that will remain in the heart forever.
It is not always the top to give you the happiness and satisfaction of a climb, often are the journey and the efforts we undertake to get where we manage.
Article and pictures by Emrik Favre, November 2019.
Emrik Favre, born in 1988, ski instructor and mountain guide of Champoluc, he is part of the Grivel team since 2015. He has climbed mountains from South America to the Himalayas, to China (Sichuan).
Favorite Grivel products: Ghost ice axe and Air Tech crampons.